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R&B artist Bernat talks Korean success

From uploading home-recorded song covers onto YouTube to traveling around the globe and serenading thousands of fans, U.S. R&B singer-songwriter and producer Jeff Bernat has not only been recognized on an international level, but has managed to build himself quite a significant fan base in Korea.

The 24-year-old artist from Reno, Nevada, is in Seoul for the second time this year, gearing up for his sold-out, four-show concert series that starts Friday at the Lotte Card Art Center.

From marching band to school choir, Bernat always knew that music would inevitably be a big part of his life.

Straight out of high school, the budding singer got himself a job at a local Wells Fargo branch while trying to juggle his college courses. However, in an attempt to launch his musical career, Bernat said, he decided to jump onto the YouTube bandwagon by uploading cover songs.

“I was fortunate enough to make good friends with a lot of popular YouTube artists at that time and that’s kind of what started it all,” Bernat told The Korea Herald. 
Jeff Bernat. (Ganada Company)
Jeff Bernat. (Ganada Company)

After about six months of uploading videos, the singer played his first live gig opening for a number of YouTube stars in a show in San Francisco, California, in 2009. Bernat is still continuing to gain recognition as a soulful R&B artist, garnering international attention with his music on social networking sites such as Tumblr. His YouTube channel has more than 45,000 subscribers.

In December 2011, he released his first album “The Gentleman Approach,” featuring the popular track “Call You Mine.” The single was later featured on the MBC drama “You Are My Destiny,” which helped launch Bernat’s name in Korea. The artist has even managed to reach the No. 1 spot on a number of online Korean music charts ― a tough task for a foreign artist.

“I knew it (my music) was going to spread, but I had no idea how much,” he said. “If you were to ask me the last place that I’d be successful in, I would have said Korea.”

Unbeknownst to him, Bernat’s jazzy and soulful vocals, coupled with his velvety tone, struck a chord with the Korean public and the artist was eventually asked to write a song for the drama.

In July, Bernat unveiled “Be the One,” which he specifically wrote for the storyline of “You Are My Destiny.”

The artist admitted that although he agreed to write the song for the drama for good experience, he initially didn’t realize how popular Korean dramas were outside his home country.

“I didn’t think Korean dramas were big, but it’s not only here in Korea. I mean, my aunts watch them in the Philippines and a lot of people I know watch them in the U.S.,” he explained. “It actually really helped my name a lot.”

Continuing his musical influence in Korea, the singer-songwriter shared that he has produced new singles for two separate local artists who are preparing to make their debut in the Korean music scene.

Last year Bernat released his second full-length studio album, “Modern Renaissance,” which, like his debut record, made the iTunes Top 10 R&B Albums chart.

Friday night’s concert will be his second in Seoul this year. He performed a sold-out show earlier in January. For his upcoming concert series, the artist said he would perform unplugged for the first time in his career.

“I feel like these shows are going to be different because you will see where I am comfortable being, which is pretty much an intimate environment next to this guy (producer JBird) playing piano,” says Bernat. “And the biggest reason this makes me feel comfortable is because this is how I started.”

Bernat said he turned down multiple offers for large-scale concerts because he specifically wanted to perform in an intimate setting out of his desire to take a step back and return to his roots.

“I feel like they (the audience) will really be able to hear my voice this time. Nothing is going to overpower my soft voice,” he added.

By Julie Jackson (